Church is supposed to be a safe haven, a place where we learn to trust God, to find security in Him, to worship God. We are rescued there from the evil outside. But what if that evil comes crashing through the doors and robs us of our shelter?
That’s what happened on the evening of July 17, when a young man visited a Bible study in a compassionate church in Charleston, South Carolina. What started with the love of God ended in violence as nine members were gunned down by their guest. The shooting rocked the core of the community in Charleston, but it also caused fear to lodge in my heart – in a body that was 2500 miles away. Why do bad things happen? And could it happen in my church? Fear, pain and confusion aren’t limited by distance. They grow in you despite your best efforts to sweep them away.
My heart broke when I heard the news of the shooting, late that night, across three time zones and all those miles. I heard my heart crack while I snuggled in bed thinking of the families whose loved ones were victims. My heart was heavy, but theirs must have been inconsolable. Church should always be safe. Church means loving and caring and living in a community that heals our pain. It should never be a battleground, but a kinship that is able to overcome any artificial barriers we humans put up. Christ came to save us all.
That evening started with Bible study and it is now the Word healing the hearts of so many – not only in South Carolina, but throughout the country. Hearts so deeply wounded can only be restored by dressing themselves in the love of Jesus. I am so inspired by the forgiveness shown to that troubled young man by the members of the church who rose up and said publically, “I forgive you.” They are administering lavish grace not just to him, but to all of us. Their actions point out that the best way to tend your own wounds is to open your arms wide in love and forgiveness.
We are called to grieve with those who grieve. I am doing that as I watched mourners come together across racial differences. Marchers who held candles and walked across bridges and shouted even in their silence, “The only way to heal is to show love.” When the world breaks your heart, the only way through the pain is to show more love. These brave souls are inspiring me to develop a habit of showing love, of reaching out, of trying to comfort rather than inflict more pain. I want the world to experience the God of redemption and grace through my actions and my thoughts.
It sounds like an impossible task, but let’s be motivated by those who at their most crushing moment of loss stood up in forgiveness. Just as God filled the angry, broken places in their lives, He can fill them in all of us freeing us to love more fully. God can shelter us from the pain of the outside world because it is only God who is bigger than our pain.
Whatever is causing you fear, whatever brings you pain, always remember God will never abandon you in the midst of your trial. Throughout the Bible, God promises as He does in Deuteronomy 31:6: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” He will always be your sanctuary.